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Wednesday, November 4, 2015


Today my friend, Dan, and I went up to Whatcom county, which is about an hour and a half north of home.  The idea was to bring my Whatcom county list up from 24 to something over 39.


Our first stop was at Larrabee State Park, along Chuckanut Drive.  First we stopped at the Clayton Beach/Frangrance Lake trailhead parking lot, and I played the songs for Pacific Wren and Black-capped Chickadee.  No responses and we didn't see or hear a single bird there.


The next stop was the main camping and day use area for Larrabee State Park.  We walked through the tunnel under the railroad tracks and got a view of the water.  I picked up Harlequin Duck, Red-breasted Merganser, and Black Turnstone there, but that was all.  Our next stop was at the boat launch area on Cove Road, but we saw nothing from there.


Next we stopped at what is called either Mud Bay or Chuckanut Pocket Estuary.  The tide was high and I saw a pair of American Wigeons, a number of Buffleheads, a Horned Grebe, some Common Mergansers, and some Barrow's Goldeneyes there.  On our way back to the car there was a little flock of Pine Siskins, too.


We had stopped at Subway on the way north and gotten sandwiches, and we took them to Marine Park in southwest Bellingham (the Fairhaven district) and ate them there.  We stopped at Padden Lagoon on the way and I got Steller's Jay and Mallard, then at Marine Park itself I added Common Loon and Red-necked Grebe.  That brought me to 37 species for the county - only two more to go.


When we had finished our lunch we drove north along the waterfront and stopped at the southern end of a long boardwalk along the shore and I added Pacific Loon, Belted Kingfisher, and Surf Scoter from there.  That put me over the top at 40 species.  We drove through Boulevard Park but didn't see any birds there.


We headed toward home at that point, but detoured to take in Lake Padden on the way.  Lake Padden Park is a beautiful park with lots of trees and a great lake with a path around it.  I was able to add American Coot, Ruddy Duck, Ring-necked Duck, and Pied-billed Grebe there for a final total of 44 species in Whatcom county.  Now I only have three more counties to bring up to 39 - Lewis, Gray's Harbor, and Thurston - all of which have totals of 33 at this point.  I hope to hit all three of those counties in a single overnight trip, later this month or in December.  My Washington county project is coming to its end, it looks like.  I started it in July of 2012 and I'd like to bring the last of the 39 counties up to a total of at least 39 in each county, by the end of this year.


For the year, I have 360 species, of which 8 have been lifers.  I probably won't get any more this year, but it's still possible.



Friday, November 20, 2015


Today I headed south on an overnight trip to try to bring my last three Washington counties up to 39 species.  Those counties are Gray’s Harbor, Thurston, and Lewis.  I had 33 species in each county going into today, so I needed six new species in each county.


On my way south I decided to stop in Tacoma to look for a rare duck (in the US) that has been seen there recently.  I figured I would devote an hour to the search for it, and it was only about ten minutes out of my way, each direction.


I got off I-5 onto I-705 and made my way to Ruston Way, along the Tacoma waterfront.  I missed the turn off to the parking lot I had intended to stop at, and instead parked a couple of hundred yards farther up the road and walked back.  One of the first birds I saw on the water was a duck I couldn’t figure out.  Here are a couple of pictures of it.


The one I couldn’t figure out is the one in the front.  Here is another picture, taken a little later.


I think it must be a hybrid of one of the two goldeneye species I saw there today, or possibly an immature one, but the bill doesn’t seem right for goldeneye.  I plan to put a post up on Tweeters, the local birding mailing list, to ask for help in the identification.


I saw both species of goldeneye.  Here is a picture of male and female Common Goldeneyes.  The male is the one with more white on him.


Here’s a male Barrow’s Goldeneye, the other species.


There are several differences in the two species, and the next picture illustrates them.


The male Common Goldeneye is the one in the back.  He has a more or less round patch of white on his face, while the Barrow’s Goldeneye has a crescent-shaped one.  The head shape is different, too.  In addition, the color pattern on the back and flanks is different in each species.  Finally, the male Common Goldeneye’s head has a greenish sheen to it, and the male Barrow’s Goldeneye’s head has a purplish sheen to it.  I was very pleased to get a picture that shows the two species together so well, showing the differences.


Meanwhile, I was walking down the path along the shore, looking for the rare duck.  As I approached the parking area I had intended to stop at, there it was.  Here is a closeup of a female KING EIDER, one for my year list.


I’ve seen King Eider twice before, both were also females, but at great distances and in poor lighting.  I was only about 20 or 30 feet away from this one.  She was diving and catching crabs, and here is a picture of her with a crab.


So, by the time I walked back to my car and got back to I-5, I had spent 55 minutes on my twitch, which was five minutes under what I had allocated.


My first stop on my three-county quest was in Gray’s Harbor county.  I picked up a tuna sandwich at Subway in Elma and ate it in the car at Vance Creek County Park.  While I was eating, a Cooper’s Hawk flew through, and I got a good look at it, to add one to my Gray’s Harbor county list.  I saw another small bird, too, while eating, probably a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, but I didn’t get a good enough look to count it.


After lunch I tried to drive around Wenzel Slough Road, but soon came to a point where the road was closed due to water over the road.  We’ve had a lot of rain lately.


So, I backtracked and drove on to Brady Loop Road, which I knew was also closed at some point, but I decided to drive it as far as I could.  My main target was both local swan species, Tundra and Trumpeter, but there were possibilities for other species I needed, too.


There was nothing.  No birds at all, until I finally saw some Dark-eyed Juncos near a house that had some trees by it.  So, I had two species of the six I needed.


I continued on, driving slowly with my window open, listening for birds, and at one point while going past a house, I heard the sounds of birds.  I stopped and as I was looking around, a number of Mourning Doves flew up from the roadside, where I hadn’t even noticed them.  Another one I needed.  Three down.


Looking at the yard more closely, I saw that there were several bird feeders in the back, with birds around.  Most were Dark-eyed Juncos, which I had just seen, but I soon picked up Pine Siskin and Steller’s Jay for my county list, bringing me to 38 species.  Just one more to go.


I was getting back into my car when I saw a small raptor on an old nest on a power pole, and watched it as it flew and came back to the pole.  It was a small falcon for sure, and I assumed it was an American Kestrel, which I hadn’t seen yet in Gray’s Harbor county, so I was there – 39 species.  I approached it and got some pictures, and when I looked at the pictures tonight, I decided it was actually a different small falcon, a Merlin, a great bird I don’t see often, and also one I needed in Gray’s Harbor county.  Here is a picture of what I think is a Merlin.


Soon after that, there was water over the road, and I turned around and went back.  On the way back I saw a couple of Golden-crowned Sparrows, to add one more to my county list.  Then I saw a family of five swans in the distance, in a field.  There were two adults and three juveniles, which are darker in color.  They were a long way away, but I got my scope on them, and at maximum power (60X), I could see that they were Tundra Swans, the less common of the two species I might have seen.  I could see the pattern around the eye and also one of the adults had a yellow dash on its bill, in front of the eye, which indicates Tundra Swan.


On my way out of the county, I also added Feral Pigeon to my county list, to bring me to 42 for Gray’s Harbor county.  It was only about 1:30 PM, and I was done and moving on toward Thurston county.


Just after I crossed the county line, within maybe 100 or 200 feet of the line, I saw a couple of American Kestrels, which I needed for Thurston county.  Just five more species to go in Thurston county.


I made my way to Millersylvania State Park, which I had never been to before.  On my way I saw a Common Raven flying along, and that brought me to 35 species for Thurston county.  At the state park, I stopped just inside the entrance and walked around a little.  I played the song of a bird I thought should be there, and I was rewarded with great views of a tiny Pacific Wren.  Here are two pictures of that little cutie.



That second one is kind of blurry, but there was little light and the bird never kept still.


I moved on to the boat launch area and looked out at the lake with my scope.  There were some Pied-billed Grebes, but I already had that one for Thurston county.  Then I saw three ducks with their heads tucked in, sleeping, but I was able to discern that they were Common Goldeneyes, which added one more to my county list.  I also saw some Buffleheads, another duck species I needed, so I was only one away from my goal.  I wasn’t really concerned about getting to 39 in Thurston county today, because tomorrow I will be going through the county again, and I could stop at Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, which is just off I-5, and easily get a few more species.  Nonetheless, I did bring the county up to 39 by spotting a couple of Double-crested Cormorants.  So, it was about 3:45 by then, and I had two counties done.  Millersylvania State Park is on Deep Lake, and here is a picture from the boat launch area.


I headed back to I-5 and went a little farther south to Centralia, where I’m spending the night.  It is in Lewis county, my third target county on this trip.  I have 38 of Washington’s 39 counties now, and Lewis is the last one.  By the time I got here to Centralia, it was well after four o’clock and getting dark.  I stopped at Fort Borst park, but didn’t see anything there.  My next stop was Hayes Lake, and there was little there, but I did pick up a single Ring-necked Duck there, sitting on the shore.


I moved on to Plummer Lake and again there was little, but there were two female scaup out on the lake, and after careful consideration, I decided they were Greater Scaup, which brought me to 35 species for Lewis county.


I gave up then, as it was getting pretty dark, and tomorrow I will attempt to get another four species here in Lewis county, which would complete my “39 in 39”, meaning I would have seen or heard 39 different species in each of Washington’s 39 counties.  It has taken me three and a half years to do this, but I’ve been doing other things as well.


My King Eider today brings me to 361 species for 2015, of which 8 have been lifers.



Saturday, November 21, 2015


All I had to do today was to get four more species in Lewis county, to complete my "39 in 39".  I was up at 7:15, and I headed out about 9:00.  In the motel parking lot I heard a Northern Flicker.  I didn't ever see it, but I heard it multiple times, and it is a distinctive call, so I counted it.  One down and three to go.


My first stop was on the road out of Centralia, when I saw a bird fly across the road.  It turned out to be a Eurasian Collared-Dove, one I didn't need.  While I was looking for that, I saw a Western Scrub-Jay and a Dark-eyed Junco, but I already had both of those too.


I stopped at Schaeffer County Park, which was closed, as it was the last time I was there.  I wandered into the park, though, and played the song for Pacific Wren, since they have been so responsive to playback, and the habitat looked right.  While waiting for the wren to respond, I saw a small flock of Ruby-crowned Kinglets, which was one I needed.  The Pacific Wren finally showed itself, too, so I had 38 species, and it wasn't even 9:30 yet.


My first major destination was the ponds and flooded fields near the Big Hanaford power generating station.  It is a coal-fired steam plant, and there are a number of ponds around it.  I saw a number of ducks on the first pond I came to, and I stopped to check them out.  As soon as I got out of the car I heard another Northern Flicker, and this time I saw it.  It flew before I could get a picture, though.  That enabled me to take the "heard only" footnote off Northern Flicker.


I set up my scope and soon had seen Buffledhead (a duck), Gadwall (another duck), and Canada Goose, so I was over the top, with 41 species in Lewis county.  I could have headed for home, but I hadn't ever been in that area before, so I pressed on, to check it out.  The day had started out frosty and foggy, but it had cleared by then, and it was a beautiful sunny day, in the low-30's at that point.  Here is a picture of the next pond I stopped at.


The railroad tracks bring in the coal for the generating plant, and the transmission lines overhead take the power away.  Here is a closer shot of the pond, showing some of the hundreds of ducks and geese out there.


I quickly added three more duck species to my county list - Northern Pintail, Northern Shoveler, and Green-winged Teal.  Here is a picture of the power plant, with Mount Rainier in the distance.


I drove on past the plant and stopped when the road turned north, going out of the county.  Here is a picture of a frozen marsh there, with Mount Rainier in the background again.


I pished a little (some small birds will respond to a sound like psshh, which birders refer to as pishing), and several Song Sparrows popped up.  I didn't need that one, but it was interesting how responsive they were.  Across the road, I got this picture of the power plant, looking back west.


I don't know what that second plume of steam on the left was from.  Maybe there is another plant, over that hill, but that is about where Centralia is located.


While I was taking that picture, I noticed a little bird flitting around, probably as a result of my pishing, across the road.  It turned out to be a Marsh Wren, another one I needed for the county.  It didn't sit still at all, but I did get this picture of it, fluttering its wings.  Check out the delicate little feet, holding onto the reed.


I turned back toward Centralia and stopped at the entrance to the power plant to take a look at another pond there, and I saw two Ruddy Ducks, to bring my Lewis county total to 46.  It was about 10:15 by then, and I was over the top in Lewis county, which was my 39th county.  My project was successfully completed, 40 months after I started keeping track of Washington county lists, in July of 2012.  Doing "39 in 39" in 40 months is no big deal - people do it in a single year, but it was still an accomplishment, and it was a lot of fun.  I saw counties I had never heard of and visited parts of the state I had never been to before.


I hadn't checked out of my motel, so I went back and did that and headed north, toward home.


I could have just gone on home, but it was not even noon, so I got some lunch at Mickey D's and stopped at Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), which is in Thurston county.  I had brought Thurston up to 39 yesterday afternoon, but more is always better, it was a beautiful day, and there was a chance I could get a year-bird that has been reported there recently (American Bittern, a bird I have never seen in Washington).  I didn't see the bittern, but I had a nice long walk (for me) in the sunshine and saw some birds.  I got some pictures that I like, too.


Here is a female Spotted Towhee.


I didn't need that one for Thurston county, but I soon got American Wigeon, which I did need.  Here is a picture of a pair of American Wigeons.  The male is the one with the colorful head.


There was a Bald Eagle at the top of a tree, and I needed that one, too.  Later there were two of them in that tree, calling repeatedly in their funny little eagle voices, and I got this picture.  The light was wrong for a picture, but they're still magnificent birds.


I added Ring-necked Duck, and here's a picture.  The males are the black and white ones.


I soon added Northern Shoveler, too.  Later I saw a couple of them close by, but they were feeding, and I had a hard time getting a picture of one with its head out of the water.  Here is the best I could do a male Northern Shoveler.


Here's a much more typical view when they are feeding.


Here's a picture of the dike trail at Nisqually NWR.


Here's a Great Blue Heron that had its feathers all fluffed out and its neck pulled in.


I already had Green-winged Teal for Thurston county, but I got this picture I like of a male Green-winged Teal.


You can just see a hint of the green patch on his wing that gives the species its name.


It was a bit of a walk out to the start of the boardwalk, and here is a view looking back toward the twin barns from the start of the boardwalk.


There was another Great Blue Heron out there, and I got an interesting series of pictures of it.  Here is a closeup of its head, to start things off.


Soon after that, it caught a rodent of some kind, maybe a vole.


It seemed a little large for the heron to swallow, but it worked at it.  They always swallow their prey head first, and they swallow it whole.  Here is the heron with the rodent partly turned around.


Next, it got the rodent completely turned around and had it by its head, with its tail hanging down.


I was just wondering what the bird was going to do with it next, when it just gulped it down.  Here it is, going down the throat of the bird.  It seemed a bit large to me, but the heron didn't have any trouble getting it down.


I've seen Great Blue Herons catch fish many times, but I don't remember seeing one catch a rodent before.  I frequently see them in fields, and I guess that this is what they are looking for there.


While walking along the dike trail, I saw more than half a dozen Greater Yellowlegs, another one for my county list.  While I was looking at them, I overheard a guy saying to the woman with him that he saw a Eurasian Wigeon, so I asked where it was and added that to my county list, too.


On my way back to the car, I saw a number of gulls flying around over the water, but they were fairly far away.  I hadn't lugged my scope with me on my hike, and the gulls were just a little too far away for me to be able to identify them with binoculars.  So, I zoomed in my trusty camera and took some pictures, hoping I would be able to identify the gulls later, on the computer.  Sure enough, it was easy to see that they were Ring-billed Gulls, one I needed for the county.  Here are two of them.  You can see the black ring on the yellow bill.


It was a great example of using my camera for more zoom power than my binoculars are capable of.  I had another example of using my camera for bird identification shortly after that, too, when I got this picture of a bird in a tree.


I hadn't been able to identify that bird at the time, but when I saw it on the computer, I realized it was a Western Meadowlark, still another one I needed for Thurston county.


Here is another picture of Nisqually NWR.


Back at the visitor center, I got this picture of a Pied-billed Grebe, a bird I didn't need for the county, but I liked the reflection of the bird in the water.


So, when all was said and done, I had added eight more species to my Thurston county list at Nisqually NWR this afternoon.  More importantly, I had enjoyed a nice long walk on a beautiful sunny Saturday, with the temperatures in the high 40's by then.


So, the trip was a total success.  I ended up with 42 species in Gray's Harbor county, 46 species in Lewis county, and 47 species in Thurston county.  I added a year bird yesterday and I got some pictures I like.  It was nice to get out and about, too, especially after all the rainy weather we have had lately.


Oh yes, yesterday I showed a couple of pictures of a mystery duck that I had seen in Tacoma, and I posted about it on Tweeters last night.  I got more than ten responses, and I believe it was a hybrid cross between a Barrow's Goldeneye and a Hooded Merganser.  Some species can produce offspring with other closely-related species, and this appears to be an example of that.  I enjoyed the emails I got in response to my post on Tweeters and I learned some things.  I also got confirmation from several people that the small falcon I saw in Gray's Harbor county was indeed a Merlin.  The picture I got is the best one I have ever gotten of a Merlin, so that pleases me.


So, that might be it for this year.  I don't have any other plans for finding any more year-birds and I don't have any other trips planned.  I need to think up some kind of a project for next year, and I have a couple of ideas I'm thinking about.  Meanwhile, all I can say is "What a life!"